Adding to the history of Uniontown basketball is the 1974-75 squad that captured a WPIAL Class A title and finished with a 27-1 record.
Uniontown went 16-6 in 1973-74 and 9-12 in 1972-73, the Red Raiders had not made the WPIAL playoffs since the 1969-70 campaign when they went 22-1 and suffered a tough 58-57 loss to Ambridge in the WPIAL playoffs.
Led by four seniors and a junior in the starting lineup, the Red Raiders returned to the WPIAL playoff stage with a vengeance in 1974-75. Uniontown was unbeaten 12-0 in Section 6. They won 27 games in a row and captured the WPIAL championship before falling to eventual state champ Schenley in the PIAA playoffs.
ìThat senior group that I played with, we played together since eighth grade,î Former Raider guard Dana Perno recalled. ìBasically the same guys, Gary Garbutt, Dan Spiranac, Tommy Hutson and Mark Hozak joined us when we got in high school. We were ready, we knew each other.î
ìSince eighth grade, we started to build the nucleus at Ben Franklin Junior High,î Spiranac stated. ìIt was just like second nature the way we played together. We knew our roles and the big thing with our team was there were no egos. We all knew our roles and we all felt comfortable with the role and it didn't matter who had the hot hand. It was really a fun year.î
The lone junior in the starting lineup Mark Hozak blended in very well.
ìThe success of that team was that they grew up together and played together all through junior high at Ben Franklin,î Hozak stated. ìI was sort of the loner that came from Lafayette Junior High, but I blended in well with them. Coach Everhart told me to get the rebounds and we'll take care of the rest.î
The Red Raiders played an exciting up tempo game; they were like a well- oiled machine.
ìIt was automatic, we didn't have to think, we knew what everybody's role was,î Perno said. ìWe were unselfish, played good hard defense and pressed well and passed the ball well. We liked to run the fast break. It was a fun time to play basketball.î
ìOur speed caused teams fits,î Spiranac said. ìWe were a very good running team and the flow of our fast break was outstanding.î
The Raiders primed for their playoff run by cruising through tough Section 6.
ìIt was a good section,î Perno offered. ìGood players, we used to play against each other in the summertime in the off season on the playgrounds. We all knew each other, so yeah it was good competition.î
ìIt was quite an experience,î Hozak recalled. ìThere were a lot of real close games along the way. Connellsville took us into triple overtime at their place, we had a close game with Ringgold, Laurel Highlands had two big guys in Bill DeBerry and Whammy Douglas. I have a lot of good memories about that season.î
Coaching legend Abe Everhart had his hand on the tiller for the 1974-75 Red Raiders. It marked Uniontown's first Class A championship game appearance since 1966.
ìI had so much respect for Coach Everhart,î Perno explained. ìEverybody had respect for him, he was a real good teacher and he would get out on the floor with us and walk through things and he really knew the game. We were very well prepared for every game. He knew a lot of basketball and I was fortunate to play at West Virginia for some great coaches, but I think Coach Everhart knew more basketball than anybody I ever played for.î
ìOne thing about coach Everhart, some coaches can coach in practice and in college recruit, but he was a game day coach,î Spiranac stated. ìEvery time we threw a press it was just the right time, we'd switch from zone to man to man. He had a knack out there and that's the thing I respected the most about him. When it came to game time he just excelled.î
Uniontown didn't miss a beat in the WPIAL playoffs defeating Chartiers Valley 74-58, Penn Hills 75-64, Aliquippa 71-52 and dispatching Valley in the championship game 68-61.
ìMost of the teams were bigger than us size-wise,î Perno stated. ìChartiers Valley gave us a pretty good battle and I remember Penn Hills came out and they were pretty confident, but we jumped all over them really early. Aliquippa I think was surprised by how aggressive we were, they had a pretty good player in Bill Cashaw, but we handled him. Against Valley they had BB Flenory and we had actually played against him in a tournament in New Kensington in eighth grade. We went up there and beat them on their court, and that set up the rivalry. That was a great win over Valley.î
ìWe weren't intimidated by Flenory and Valley,î Spiranac opined. ìI picked up four fouls early and spent some time on the bench. Coming down the stretch Perno hit a bunch of free throws. We made our foul shots.î
Uniontown downed Indiana 53-30 and Erie Academy 89-72 in the PIAA playoffs. Then they ran into the powerful Schenley Spartans and the state championship dream ended with a 92-77 defeat.
ìThey were quite a ball club,î Perno opined. ìThree division one players Kelvin Smith who was 6-11, and we didn't have an answer for that. Wayne Williams who was the point guard, I ended up playing against him when he went to Pitt and I played for West Virginia. Probably the best player they had was Nathan ìSonnyî Lewis. We couldn't match their talent and that was a great team.î
ìThey were just too much,î Spiranac said. ìI felt bad for Hutson, they beat him up. Three division one players, they were really good.î
27-1 with a WPIAL title, the memories of that great season haven't faded for the Red Raiders.
ìPlaying for that team were the best memories I had in basketball,î Perno said. ìThe town was behind us. There was a definite buzz and excitement with everything that was going on. The Uniontown ñ Laurel Highlands games, forget trying to get a ticket because that was a packed house. It was a great atmosphere for Uniontown basketball.î
ìMaybe this is clichÈ,î Spiranac explained. ìWinning the WPIAL meant more to me than winning state. I don't know why, it was just the mystique of playing at the Civic Arena. It was almost a letdown after we won the WPIAL title. It was a great memory and it was just a thrill for us and the community.î